When it comes to awesome, under-the-radar thrillers, James Roby is cranking them out in a hurry. Continuing my goal of shedding a light on lesser-known writers with big-time potential, I dove into Roby’s first Urbanknights thriller, The Random Affair, unsure of what to expect . . . and ended up walking away thoroughly entertained.
Here, Roby introduces readers to Jordan Noble, who previously worked for the defense intelligence agency before setting up shop in Detroit, where he launched the UrbanKnight Detective Agency—an outfit dedicated to tackling cases nobody else is willing to investigate. But when someone from Noble’s past with a major ax to grind comes storming back to the here and now, Jordan must find a way to use all his experience if he has any hope of beating the odds . . . which are stacked completely against him.
Though the book actually came out a few years back, I just caught up with author James Roby, who agreed to go on the record for our Five Questions segment. Check out the full interview below, then click here to get your copy of The Random Affair, available in paperback and e-book.
TRBS: Before we get into the book, when did you decide that you wanted to be a writer, and how long did it take to pen your first novel?
Roby: I remember as a kid, going to see Superman, yes I’m dating myself, and wondering what happened next. What if this happened to me? If I was Superman? I had the whole thing in my head – but that’s it. It was in my head. It wasn’t until high school while watching a TV show that I actually started typing. The show had ended mid-story so I took it upon myself to finish it. Now that I could type, I actually produced something. After that, I was moved to go the detective routine thanks to film noir stuff my father and I like to watch. The idea of the UrbanKnights took hold while I was in college but it wasn’t until I was assigned at Minot AFB, ND that I began the story. I started writing, seat of my pants and then…I just stopped. I was sure I was wasting my time and no one would read it. But a few years later, a fellow officer’s wife somehow got a hold of a printed copy of my novel. Not only did she edit it but she wrote at the end ‘you have to finish this’
The rest is history.
TRBS: Who are some of your favorite authors, and which writers have had an impact on you in your own writing career?
Roby: Oh geez, where to start? I read a lot of stuff before I zeroed in on the thriller genre. Richard Wright’s Native Son was probably the first book I was assigned at school to read that I liked. And Great Expectations was one…not so much. I remember tearing through William Golding’s Lord of the Flies because, let’s face it, those kids were messed up.
I grew up a James Bond fans, so I read a lot of Fleming’s stuff, with From Russia with Love being my favorite. Then, once I joined the Air Force, it was almost a requirement to read Tom Clancy. Of his early stuff, it’s a toss-up between Clear and Present Danger and Patriot Games.
I am so missing Vince Flynn. It was like he was just at his sweet spot when he died. I really liked Memorial Day, just because it got me thinking about the vulnerabilities of our Federal government.
I’m a die-hard Mark Greaney’s Gray Man fan. I got into him because I read a review that Court Gentry was too unbelievable. I don’t know. Seems cool to me.
But I think Clancy impacted me the most – just the way he tackled the secret, but really not so secret world of military/intelligence operations. As a junior officer, I was impressed with the level of detail he wrote with. How he made a Coast Guard captain a hero in Clear and Present Danger. In his eyes, every mission was important and I definitely responded to that.
TRBS: Alright, let’s talk about THE RANDOM AFFAIR. How did you come up with the plot details for this book?
Roby: Well, I’m a pantser – as in writing by the seat of my pants. Honestly, my first go ‘round was just to get as many ideas on paper –the setting, characters, and their relationships. The first inspiration came from the plot from the movie Passenger 57. I wanted a normally unflappable villain, Cody Random, slowly losing his cool in the presence of a relentless hero, Jordan Noble and his UrbanKnights. I came up with Cody’s McGuffin, the super drug crush because of the impact drugs have on the inner city environment like Detroit. The final piece was Jordan Noble, being a creature of two worlds; raised in the streets of Detroit yet a trained military intelligence officer. A hero like this is just the unstoppable force to tackle the immovable object of drug abuse. Finally, since this was the first novel, there had to be growth of the character. Jordan needed to address his departure from the Defense Intelligence Agency to going back home. How this change impacted him and how he overcame the emotional baggage of not being in the service anymore.
TRBS: What kind of research did you have to do for this book, and what did you learn along the way?
Roby: Well, initially I relied on my memories of home and my own service in the Air Force. This was a good foundation and help to give the UrbanKnights its own unique voice. I googled a lot – mostly weapons and their capabilities. But fortunately, I had a colleague who was an Air Force Special Tactics Officer. Let me tell you, these guys are some unsung heroes. Since they deploy embedded with special operations forces across the services, these guys are extremely able. I got nothing but love for them and tapping into one of them for info was invaluable.
There is a wealth of information in the world. The internet is a great place to find some of it, but I found reading within the genre made me say, Huh? I never thought of that, more than once. I’d say keeping your eyes and ears open will lead you to new ideas you never considered. So, cliché as it is, Life turned out to be the best teacher.
TRBS: Lastly, when can readers expect another book from you?
Roby: Right now! The next four novels, BLACK BEAR, PALE HORSE, CARIBBEAN KNIGHTS and SINS OF THE FATHER are available now at amazon.com. The next book, FAVORITE SON is in the editing stage now and work has begun on THE FIRST RODEO.
Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.